Justin Leininger always knew he wanted to go to Houghton. After receiving the Lee Scholarship his freshman year, the door of his dream swung open. The lessons he learned at Houghton continue to influence his ministry today, reminding him to bring his whole self to his role as a pastor.

  1. Finding His Ministry Passion

God confirmed Justin’s call to ministry the summer before his junior year of high school. He enrolled in Houghton’s ministry program, but wasn’t set on a certain ministry area. During his time at Houghton, God gave Justin a vision and passion for ministry.

“Family ministry is my passion,” shares Justin. “I love seeing families impacted and changed by the love of Christ.”

At his current lead pastor role at North Collins Wesleyan Church in Western New York, Justin dreams of the church becoming a place of growth and truth for families.

“We see an opportunity to be a family church for this area. From children to youth, we want to see families ministering and being ministered to,” Justin explains. “Our goal is to love the community as if they were our family.”

  1. Practical Preparedness for Any Situation

Justin shares that Houghton equipped him with the tools for success in ministry, particularly forming the way he approaches challenges.

“My education at Houghton taught me to think,” recounts Justin. “As a pastor, you have to be a jack of all trades. You don’t know what’s coming from one week to the next.

“Even more than practical experience, Houghton prepared me to problem solve in any situation.”

Houghton also provided Justin with skills needed every day in ministry. Justin still remembers the coaching of Dr. Michael Walters, who taught him how to put together an effective message.

“Dr. Walters has an amazing preaching class at Houghton. He taught me to ask the right questions and figure out what will stick with a person,” tells Justin.

  1. Be Yourself in Leadership

During his 4 years at Houghton, Justin served as a Resident Assistant and Residential Director’s Assistant at Shenawana Residence Hall. The experience of leading a group of his peers in weekly activities—whether silly or spiritual—developed Justin’s leadership skills.

“Leading those activities shaped and prepared me for future youth, children and family ministry opportunities in ways I never expected. It taught me to be myself and to minister,” Justin shares.

Justin remembers the mentorship of Dr. Richard Eckley, an especially influential professor during his time at Houghton.

“Dr. Eckley taught me that I could be real as a pastor. I didn’t have to put on a certain disguise,” recalls Justin. “I could be myself to love Christ and care for people.”

Justin counsels current Houghton students to take full advantage of all the college has to offer, just like he did. “Soak up every opportunity at Houghton, and use each opportunity to serve and to grow. You never know what those little things will do to prepare you later on.”

Justin’s ministry journey, beginning with his time at Houghton, speaks to these words of wisdom he now offers to younger pastors: “Every opportunity is a chance for God to enrich your gifts.”


Gaby Garver is a 2016 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University. Having studied International Relations in college, Gaby’s passion is refugee assistance. She currently lives in Istanbul, Turkey, where she volunteers with refugees and teaches English lessons. Her favorite pastimes are cooking for friends and camping.